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вторник, 4 июня 2019 г.

Hurricanes Have No Place to Hide, Thanks to Better Satellite Forecasts

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If you’ve ever looked at a hurricane forecast, you’re probably familiar with “cones of uncertainty,” the funnel-shaped maps showing a hurricane’s predicted path. Thirty years ago, a hurricane forecast five days before it made landfall might have a cone of uncertainty covering most of the East Coast. The result? A great deal of uncertainty about who should evacuate, where it was safe to go, and where to station emergency responders and their equipment.


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Over the years, hurricane forecasters have succeeded in shrinking the cone of uncertainty for hurricane tracks, with the help of data from satellites. Polar-orbiting satellites, which fly nearly directly above the North and South Poles, are especially important in helping cut down on forecast error.


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The orbiting electronic eyeballs key to these improvements: the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) fleet. A collaborative effort between NOAA and NASA, the satellites circle Earth, taking crucial measurements that inform the global, regional and specialized forecast models that have been so critical to hurricane track forecasts.


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The forecast successes keep rolling in. From Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria in 2017 through Hurricanes Florence and Michael in 2018, improved forecasts helped manage coastlines, which translated into countless lives and property saved. In September 2018, with the help of this data, forecasters knew a week ahead of time where and when Hurricane Florence would hit. Early warnings were precise enough that emergency planners could order evacuations in time — with minimal road clogging.  The evacuations that did not have to take place, where residents remained safe from the hurricane’s fury, were equally valuable.


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The satellite benefits come even after the storms make landfall. Using satellite data, scientists and forecasters monitor flooding and even power outages. Satellite imagery helped track power outages in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria and in the Key West area after Hurricane Irma, which gave relief workers information about where the power grid was restored – and which regions still lacked electricity. 


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Flood maps showed the huge extent of flooding from Hurricane Harvey and were used for weeks after the storm to monitor changes and speed up recovery decisions and the deployment of aid and relief teams.


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As the 2019 Atlantic hurricane season kicks off, the JPSS satellites, NOAA-20 and Suomi-NPP, are ready to track hurricanes and tropical cyclones as they form, intensify and travel across the ocean – our eyes in the sky for severe storms. 


For more about JPSS, follow @JPSSProgram on Twitter and facebook.com/JPSS.Program, or @NOAASatellites on Twitter and facebook.com/NOAASatellites.


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